Youth Mental Health First Aid
One in five young people are trying to cope with a mental health condition, according to teenmentalhealth.org. While this may surprise some people, most middle and high school teachers wouldn’t bat an eye at this statistic because we experience it every day. Kudos to Marshall County Schools for training all members of John Marshall’s faculty, staff and administration in Youth Mental Health First Aid.
With our 213-page workbook in hand, we spent the full day before Christmas break learning to identify, understand, and respond to our students’ mental health. In addition to John Marshall, all county bus drivers and school aides have been trained, as have some of its middle school teachers.
This intensive training was quite emotional because most of us have encountered at least one student who was dealing with the conditions we were discussing: depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and psychosis. Oftentimes, in teens these conditions are unfortunately and mistakenly interpreted as “typical teenage angst.” Youth Mental Health First Aid training helps break this mischaracterization, so rather than dismissing teens as “just” being overly emotional, dramatic, or moody, it requires participants to look more closely for specific signs and symptoms that may be the result of an underlying mental health issue.
The message being sent by Marshall County Schools is that our students’ mental health is as important as their physical health, and as a state, more and more people are adopting this same belief. To date, there have been 13,000 people trained in Mental Health First Aid throughout West Virginia, including teachers at Wheeling Park High School (Shout out to you, too, Ohio County Schools.)
My Youth Mental Health First Aid training was led by none other than Amy Gamble, an Olympian, collegiate basketball player and of course, basketball star at John Marshall High School where she earned her title of West Virginia Women’s Basketball Player-of-the-Year in 1982.
To say she has ethos in our community is an understatement. She has always been respected and revered and valued a model of athleticism, good sportsmanship, poise, and grace. So, when Gamble bravely shared her own struggles and experiences with mental illness, community members listened. Through her speaking engagements, outreach, mental health activism and advocacy, she is changing the way we think about and talk about mental illness in the Northern Panhandle. Spend five minutes with Gamble, and you will see and hear and feel the passion she has for educating others about mental illness and helping those who suffer from its effects. (Looking for a good parade marshal, Christmas parade committees in Marshall and Ohio Counties?)
One of Gamble’s goals is that people who work with, encounter, or live with young people receive Youth Mental Health First Aid Training. “It’s important for everyone who is working with young people to be trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid. I’ve had stories from people across the state of West Virginia where it was the school cook who had made a difference in this person’s life when he was struggling,” Gamble said. “Research tells us that it only takes one adult in a young person’s life to care that can actually change the trajectory of that person’s life, so having everyone trained to have the confidence to know what to do to help is extremely important.”
Gamble said the training helps participants “learn what to do when a young person might be struggling with a mental health condition, challenge, or problem. They know what to do if a young person is in a mental health crisis showing warning signs of suicide or non-suicidal self-injury.” The training and accompanying workbook details the specific signs and symptoms for the most common mental health conditions seen in youth, explains the Youth Mental Health First Aid Action Plan to follow when a person is experiencing a mental health crisis, and provides a wealth of hotlines, agencies, and websites to consult to receive more information.
Gamble said any organization can arrange for Youth Mental Health First Aid Training, not just schools. I encourage schools, churches, parent-teacher associations, and other organizations who work with our youth to schedule this training.
To do so, simply contact Amy Gamble at email@example.com. Making this choice could save a life.
Jonna Kuskey is an English teacher at John Marshall High School. She was named the 2017 James Moffett Award winner by the National Council of Teachers of English and the third place winner of the 2017 Penguin Random House Foundation Teacher Awards for Literacy.